WASHINGTON, Sept. 4 (UPI) -- The spotlight shifts from 3-year-olds to the youngsters on the Labor Day weekend with juvenile events from Florida to California to New York almost certain to include some of next year's Kentucky Derby and Oaks contenders.
The slate includes the Grade I Del Mar Furity, won last year by this year's Triple Crown winner, American Pharoah, and the Grade I Hopeful at Saratoga.
The Grade I Woodward, also at Saratoga, highlights a clutch of races for the older horses. And there are grass races from 5 furlongs to 11 furlongs, including the start of the Kentucky Downs meeting -- a somewhat hidden gem on the U.S. racing scene.
International action includes Group 1 events at Haydock and Kempton in England. Hong Kong embarks on its 131st racing season, with December's Longines Hong Kong International Races already prominent on the radar.
Meanwhile, racing gets a reprieve from one premature retirement as owner Ahmed Zayat announced Thursday that American Pharoah will not be retired as a result of his second-place finish in the Travers but will, instead, continue to target the Breeders' Cup Classic (where he could meet Gleneagles -- see below). "I have every confidence that he can run to his best again," Zayat said, "and he deserves the chance to do so." Now if only that commitment could extend to the Dubai World Cup.
And for those who abhor early retirements and yearn for horses who can stick around, build a following and bolster interest in the sport ... well, see the international section below re: Cirrus Des Aigles and Red Cadeaux. Old guys rule. Old geldings, anyway.
But, first things first:
The big races here are on Labor Day -- the $350,000, Grade I Hopeful at Saratoga and the $300,000, Grade I Del Mar Futurity. While awaiting those, consider:
Saturday's $300,000 Affirmed Division of the Florida Sire Stakes at Gulfstream Park has a full field of 12 including the top three from the first leg of this series, Dream of Me, Mr. Kisses and Brighton Lane.
Riker is the even-money morning-line favorite in Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Swynford at Woodbine. The Include colt is 2-for-2, including a victory in the Colin Stakes in his last outing. There are only four rivals. Among them is Tizarunner, who was third in the Colin in his first race and then won a maiden event three weeks ago.
Six are set for Sunday's $100,000 Sapling at Monmouth Park. Pinnacle Peak won the Prairie Meadows Juvenile Mile by 10 lengths in his last start but none of the others has more than a maiden win to show. Two enter the race as maidens. Full Salute finished second in the Tyro Stakes over the course with some excuses in his previous start and seems as likely as any.
On the grass, Azar rallied from off the pace to win Wednesday's $200,000, Grade II With Anticipation Stakes at Saratoga by 3/4 length over fellow long shot Next Shares. Unbridled Daddy rallied from last to finish third, 2 lengths ahead of the favorite, Site Read. Azar, a Scat Daddy colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm going in 1:41.68 with John Velazquez up. The weekend brings Saturday's $300,000 Calumet Farm Juvenile at Kentucky Downs, Wednesday's $200,000, Grade II With Anticipation Stakes at Saratoga, and Saturday's $100,000 Del Mar Juvenile Turf.
The 2-year-old fillies
Pretty N Cool, a Scat Daddy filly trained by Bob Baffert, enters Saturday's $300,000, Grade I Del Mar Debutante with a 2-for-2 record that includes a win in the Grade II Sorrento Stakes a month ago. She faces 10 rivals in this one, including two who chased her home in the Sorrento plus stakes winners from Woodbine, Santa Anita, Santa Rosa.
Six are entered for Saturday's $350,000, Grade I Spinaway at Saratoga. Among them are the second-place finishers in the Grade II Adirondack, Tonasah, and the Grade III Schuylerville, Banree. Also here is Rachel's Valentina, the Bernardini filly out of Rachel Alexandra, who won at first asking last month. The other three also are recent maiden winners.
It's High Time, Silent Prayer and Ballet Diva -- the first three finishers in the first leg of this series -- return in a field of 12 for Saturday's $300,000 Susan's Girl Division of the Florida Sire Stakes.
Sunday's $75,000 Sorority at Monmouth Park features Tight Weave, who finished second in the local Colleen Stakes in her last outing, and Aerolite, who was fifth in the Grade III Schuylerville in July. At the end of the day, all seven are aspiring but none has won outside the maiden ranks.
On the grass, Harmonize took back from the early lead in Thursday's $100,000 P.G. Johnson Stakes at Saratoga, then came again to win by 4 lengths. Thrilled ralled from well back to take second and Finn's Girl was third. The favorite, Ava's Kitten, led much of the way but faded to get home fourth. Harmonize, a Scat Daddy filly, got 1 1/16 miles on firm going in 1:41.41 under Junior Alvarado. Otherwise, catch Saturday's $300,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile Fillies, which is jam-packed and eminently bettable, and Monday's $100,000 Del Mar Juvenile Fillies Turf.
Liam's Map appears headed in the right direction as he faces seven rivals in Saturday's $600,000, Grade I Woodward at Saratoga. The 4-year-old Unbridled's Song colt just missed holding on for the win after leading all the way, as is his wont, in the Grade I Whitney in his last outing, losing by a neck to Honor Code. That rival is not in this field. Nor is Tonalist, who finished third in the Whitney as the favorite. But Liam's Map will have plenty of company if Javier Castellano sends him to his usual spot on the lead. Bay of Plenty, Coach Inge and Protonico all have shown speed in recent starts. Mylute and Effinex both have shown the ability to come from off the pace. It's noteworthy that Liam's Map, Protonico, Mylute and Coach Inge all are trained by Todd Pletcher.
As always, if you can't be there in person, you're only a click of the dial away from live coverage from Horse Racing Radio Network (www.horseracingradio.net) on Sirius XM or your local affiliate. For a unique and informed opinion on what might happen, check www.popejude.com.
The Labor Day card at Parx Racing in Pennsylvania incoudes the $200,000, Grade III Greenwood Cup at 12 furlongs.
In other news in the Classic division, Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien said this week that Gleneagles, winner of both the Irish and English 2,000 Guineas earlier this year, is being pointed toward the Breeders' Cup Classic at Keeneland. That prospect adds luster to a lineup that also might -- or might not -- include Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and star mare Beholder. The Galileo colt is slated to contest next month's Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes, which is shaping up as a tough test indeed, or the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot in October, depending on course conditions. He favors firmer ground.
There are no monsters in Saturday's $300,000, Grade III Sarnac for 3-year-olds at Saratoga but there are some promising prospects. Takeover Target has won three of five starts, including the Grade II Hall of Fame in his last outing. Winter Springs was a closing fourth in that heat after racing well in France earlier in the year and in 2014. Go Around had a nice allowance win over the course in his previous start. Nona's Boy ran well in his first grass race in July. And World Approval won the Grade III American Derby at Arlington this summer.
Equally, there are no monsters in Sunday's $250,000, Grade II Del Mar Derby although Prospect Park is moving in the right direction with a win in the Grade III La Jolla Handicap in his last race After that, you've got your choice among several recent graded stakes also-rans -- Papacoolpappacool, Om, Crittenden and Royal Albert Hall -- or Soul Driver, who has won two somewhat lesser events in his last two outings. Recent maiden winner Win the Space rounds out the seven-horse field that will go 9 furlongs.
Saratoga on Monday has the $250,000, Grade II Bernard Baruch Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on the lawn.
Filly & Mare Turf
A dozen fillies and mares signed on for Sunday's $200,000, Grade II Yellow Ribbon at Del Mar and sorting them out is a challenge as many have shown recent reluctance to win. Irish-bred Queen of the Sand does have two straight graded stakes wins to her credit. Prize Exhibit, the lone 3-year-old in the field, also has been right there in her last three starts. British-bred Lady Pimpernel returns from a long layoff after some good efforts last winter. Texas-bred Thegirlinthatsong has faded off since winning the Grade II La Canada in January.
Goldy Espony and Ceisteach appear to be the speed and the class among nine entered for Saturday's $200,000, Grade III Glens Falls at Saratoga, going 1 3/8 miles over the inner turf course. Goldy Espony, a 4-year-old, French-bred filly has won all three starts this year, culminating in the Grade III Waya Stakes over the course last month. Ceisteach, an Irish-bred, has won her last two, most recently the Grade III Robert G. Dick Memorial at Delaware Park. Should those two wear each other out, a clutch of closers might be led by Eastern Belle.
Strict Compliance comes to Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Boiling Springs Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Monmouth Park after finishing fourth in the Grade I Belmont Oaks and third in the Grade II Lake Placid at Saratoga for trainer Chad Brown. Jellicle Ball makes her second U.S. start for trainer Graham Motion but needs to step it up. Isabella Sings, Bishop's Pond and Gypsy Judy are last-out winners.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Eleven are in for Sunday's $300,000, Grade II Prioress Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Saratoga. Among those are Cavorting, last seen winning the Grade I Test Stakes; Test runner-up Bar of Gold; dual Grade III winner Irish Jasper; Miss Woodford winner Fusaichi Red; Union Avenue Stakes winner Tricky Zippy; Promise Me Silver, who has been disappointing in New York after eight straight wins from Texas to Louisville; and Clothes Fall Off.
Monday's $400,000, Grade II Presque Isle Downs Masters on the all-weather course drew nine. Ageless, Leigh Court, Living the Life, Miss Mischief, Nellie Cashman and Cactus Kris all are hard to separate.
Don't bypass Parx Racing on Monday for the $300,000, Grade III Turf Monster at 5 furlongs and the $200,000 Turf Amazon at the same distance for fillies and mares.
There are 14 entries, plus two also-eligibles, for Sunday's $200,000 Presque Isle Mile on the all-weather course. Even if the race isn't likely a predictor in this division, it's likely to be contentious and could be lucrative. Are You Kidding Me and Florida Won are the lukewarm morning-line favorites.
Saturday's Group 1 Betfred Sprint Cup at Haydock has a bunch of top runners including Stewards Cup winner Magical Memory, Sole Power, Gordon Lord Byron, Tiggy Wiggy, Adaay and last year's winner, G Force. Tom Hogan, trainer of Gordon Lord Byron, commented, "He prefers level tracks like Haydock and Deauville and I was very pleased with his third place in the (Group 1) Prix Maurice de Gheest at Deauville last month which rates as good a performance as he has ever produced." Twilight Son, the only undefeated entrant among 17, steps up all the way from the handicap ranks to the top level.
Kempton's Saturday feature is the September Stakes won for the past two years by Prince Bishop, better known for his victory over California Chrome (and others) in this year's Dubai World Cup. Irish Derby winner and Epsom Derby runner-up Jack Hobbs is a likely contender for this year's renewal, with the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe on his horizon if all goes well. He faces six rivals and if the punters are right, they are overmatched against the Halling colt, who races in the Godolphin colors.
Looking ahead, trainer Corine Barande-Barbe says the venerable Cirrus Des Aigles is fully recovered from his latest injury and is on course to make his first-ever start in Ireland in the Sept. 12 Qipco Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown. After that, she said, he's targeted for the Champion Stakes at Ascot and possibly a return to Hong Kong in December before another visit to Dubai in March.
Red Cadeaux, meanwhile, is among 140 entered for November's Melbourne Cup. That's noteworthy in part because Red Cadeaux has finished third in that iconic event three times.
Cirrus Des Aigles are both 9 years old.
In racing earlier in the week:
Wednesday was the Yearling Sales Stakes program, with the events restricted to Canadian foals. It was not a good day for favorites. (All funds cited in Canadian dollars).
Hampstead Heath won the $125,000 Halton Stakes for 3-year-olds and up at 1 mile on the turf with a late rally that saw him finish 3/4 lengths better than the favorite, Star Contender. Melmich led all the way in the $125,000 Elgin Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track, defeating the favorite, Pender Harbour, by 2 lengths. Shake Down Baby got clear in the lane in the $200,000 Muskoga Stakes for 2-year-old fillies at 6 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather course and beat beat the favorite, Crumlin Spirit, by 5 1/4 lengths.
Brooklynsway got the lead in the stretch in the $125,000 Algoma Stakes for fillies and mares and held off Galina Point to win by a nose with the favorite, Club One Two, fourth. Rexton led from the git-go in the $125,000 Kenora Stakes at 6 furlongs on the all-weather and won by 1/2 length over Bear No Joke as the favorite, Spadina Road, finished third with a belated rally. And Amis Gizmo outfinished the favorite, Conquest Twister, to win the $200,000 Simcoe Stakes for colts and geldings by a nose over that one.
Wild in the Saddle stalked the pace in Wednesday's $100,000 Tranquility Lake Stakes for fillies and mares, moved to the leaders three-wide and prevailed by 3/4 length over My Monet. Our Pure Creation completed a lucrative trifecta, while the favorite, Savings Account, did nothing for her backers' bank balance by finishing fifth. Wild in the Saddle, a 6-year-old daughter of Silic, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:37.05 with Mario Gutierrez up.
News and Notes
The National Turf Writers and Broadcasters will salute American Pharoah and the team that molded him into the first Triple Crown champion in 37 years as the highlight its 56th annual awards dinner Oct. 28 at the Griffin Gate Marriott in Lexington, Ky. Members of the NTWAB also voted to honor Eclipse Award winners Tom Hammond of NBC and Tim Layden of Sports Illustrated, Cathy Schenck of the Keeneland Library, and turf writer Bill Mooney. Tom Leach, the voice of the University of Kentucky, will emcee the dinner.
Zhmed Zayat, owner of American Pharoah, trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Victor Espinoza will be presented the Mr. Fitz Award for typifying the spirit of racing. The award is named for the legendary trainer "Sunny" Jim Fitzsimmons. Tom Hammond will receive the third annual Jim McKay Award for broadcasting excellence. Hammond hosts NBC's coverage of the Triple Crown races as well as "Summer at Saratoga" and the Breeders' Cup.
Layden receives the Walter Haight Award for career turf writing excellence. He has covered the sport since 1976 for the Washington Post, Schenectady Gazette, Albany Times-Union, Newsday and Sports Illustrated. Schenck will be presented the Joe Palmer Award for long and meritorious service to racing. Schenck, the head librarian at the Keeneland Library, has been an enormous help to journalists and others since in a tenure dating to 1978. Mooney will receive the inaugural Bill Mooney Award for displaying courage in the face of tremendous adversity. Mooney, a cancer patient, wrote a letter to colleagues after the disease was discovered in which he told them that one of his remaining goals is "to enrich the lives of others."
Tickets for the event are available online.